February is African Liberation Month


Black History Month must be updated for the 21st century. February should be the month that we re-double our struggle against imperialism and white supremacy, and for reparations for slavery, the slave trade and colonialism.

 
This was the message that Gerald Horne, author of Black and Brown: African Americans and the Mexican Revolution, 1910-1920, left the audience with when he spoke at the beautiful Trane Studio in Toronto in February last year.
 
While we joined back then in celebrating the 200th anniversary of the Haitian revolution, we must now fight for the return of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the democratically elected president of the first African Republic. We must also stand with the people of Zimbabwe against British prime minister Tony Blair and Australian prime minister John Howard's vicious attacks on President Robert Mugabe. The people of Zimbabwe should be allowed to resolve the contradictions among themselves. "Hands off Mugabe!" should become the cry of Africans at home and abroad, and all progressive people.
 
During February – and every month – we should also call on boards of education in North America to put C.L.R. James' classic book about the Haitian revolution, The Black Jacobins, in classrooms; demand the U.S. government return Grenada's archives, stolen during the 1983 U.S. invasion; that boards of education in North America teach in the public schools about the global African presence and demand that reparations be paid to Africans at home and aboard for the enslavement and the colonization of the land and the people.
 
Because of African people's colonization, enslavement and dislocation, our people suffer what Harold Cruse, the author of The Crisis of The Negro Intellectual, calls historical discontinuity. We as a people still allow others to define our reality. I am concerned how others are attempting to define the month of February for their own purposes.
 
McDonald's calls it Black History Month; Harbourfront Centre refers to it as African Heritage Month. A growing minority prefers the term African Liberation Month.
 
Richard B. Moore, the great Barbadian revolutionary and author of the book, The Name Negro: Its Origin and Evil Use, was clear on the issue of naming people and historical events. Moore always maintained that dogs and slaves are named by their masters; free people name themselves.
 
Where did the idea of Black History Month come from? Did it drop from the skies? No. Was it conceived in the lab of a mad African scientist? Wrong again. Personally, I'm tired of hearing uninformed people remark: "They give us the coldest and shortest month of the year to celebrate Black History Month."
 
First of all, they didn't give us anything. The great African American historian Carter G. Woodson, his organization – the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, which was formed in 1915 – and the masses of African people in the United States and Canada forced the system to recognize the contribution of Africans to the world. Woodson's organization came into existence only 30 years after the Berlin Conference, where European colonial powers carved up Africa like a Thanksgiving turkey.
 
Why did Woodson pick February as the time to commemorate Africa's many gifts to humanity? Says John Henrik Clarke, in his book, Africans At the Crossroads: Notes For An African World Revolution: "Black History Week comes each year about the second Sunday in February, the objective being to select the week that will include both February 12, the birth of Abraham Lincoln, and February 14, the date Frederick Douglass calculated to have been his natal day. Sometimes the celebrations can include one day, in which case Douglass' date gets preference."
 
February never was meant to be the only month African people reflected on their past. Clarke states: "The aim is not to enter upon one week's study of (B)lack people's place in history. Rather, the celebration should represent the culmination of a systematic study of Black people throughout the year. Initially, the observance consisted of public exercises emphasizing the salient facts brought to light by researchers and publications of the association during the first 11 years of its existence. The observance was widely supported among (B)lack Americans in schools, churches and clubs. Gradually, the movement found support among other ethnic groups and institutions in America and abroad."
 
We've come a long way since Woodson created Negro History Week in 1926. His classic book, The Mis-Education of the Negro (the inspiration for the title of singer Lauryn Hill's The Mis-Education of Lauryn Hill), is a must read for anyone who wants to be on the right side of history.
 
The time has come to update Woodson's idea. As activist/scholar Abdul Akalimat, author of The African American Experience and Cyberspace, has pointed out: "Some of us have been promoting the notion that it was important to move from Negro to Black, from Week to Month and now it is time to move from general notion of history to the specific theme of Black history which is liberation."
 
The question is history for what? The answer is for liberation. Huge hamburger chains have appropriated images of the great kings and queens of Africa while holding up those who support the status quo in North America like "colon" and "condosleezie." African people, like all people, have a right to determine who their friends are and who their enemies are.
 
Norman (Otis) Richmond is based in Toronto, Canada. Richmond can be reached at norman.o.richmond@gmail.com.
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